Home > Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(3)

Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles #2)(3)
Author: T.A. White

"I don't think we're explaining correctly," Silas said, his forehead furrowing slightly.

"It's not that they won't let us fly them home; it's that we can't," Jace said.

Kent's severe expression didn't thaw. If anything, he seemed more frustrated than before. Himoto shifted in his chair, steepling his fingertips in front of him as a thoughtful frown settled on his face.

Kent was the opposite, aiming a look at Jace that said he thought the rear admiral was an imbecile. "Have the Tuann give you a crash course in flying one of their boats and then bring it home."

Kira fought the urge to roll her eyes. As if flying a complicated piece of technology like a Tuann ship was as easy as flicking a switch. It seemed Kent's rise in the military hadn't come with a set of brains.

"Our ships are keyed to our specific attributes," Silas said. "I'm afraid unless you are Tuann and are able to harness ki you will not be able to operate them."

"And who are you?" Kent demanded, squinting at the Tuann.

Silas smiled and inclined his head. "My name is Silas. My companion and I represent House Roake."

"House what?" Kent asked.

The skin around Himoto's eyes tightened the tiniest bit.

"Real stellar leadership you have there," Kira murmured in Japanese.

"He has many other admirable attributes," Himoto told her, again in Japanese.

Kira resisted the urge to blow a raspberry, tempted to call bullshit. What kind of leader engaged with a hostile ally without learning the cultural mores upon which their society was founded? Not a good one—especially in light of the often fractious relationship the Consortium enjoyed with the Tuann. They'd misjudged the Tuann during first contact, and nothing since had eased the stigma their past actions had generated.

Kent's attention came to her, and he frowned again. "What will it take for your people to teach us what we need to know to make these work?"

Silas cocked his head as Graydon lifted an eyebrow.

"He's being deliberately obtuse," Jin murmured.

Raider and Jace didn't say anything. The look on their faces told her they agreed, but their ranks in the military meant they couldn't publicly chide Kent no matter how much they wanted to.

"I think I agree with you, Jin," Kira muttered back.

She tapped her fingertips against the table as she considered. The question was if Kent was doing it deliberately.

It would make a deceptively useful tactic. More so when it was used like it was now, as a bludgeon to try to force the outcome he wanted.

It might have worked had these people been human. Not so much with Tuann, who could do quietly-stubborn better than even Kira. She could already see the mood in the room shifting. Any gains Jace and the Curs, an elite squad who had accompanied her to Ta Da’an, had won during their actions against the Tsavitee invasion were rapidly disappearing.

The Tuann appreciated the fine art of subtlety. They were the sleek snake in the grass, not the boar driving its head mindlessly against the nearest obstacle.

Kira briefly considered interfering and saving Kent from himself, but why do that when he was being the perfect distraction.

"What are our options?" Kira stuck to Japanese as she lowered her voice so only Jin would hear.

Raider shifted beside her, leaning closer.

She'd prefer to have this conversation in private, but she doubted she would be afforded that privilege.

"Not many," Jin admitted. "They have you over a barrel. There is precedent. It's rare, but it's there."

Kira refocused. When they'd arrived on this planet—ostensibly to meet her mother’s people, House Luatha—Jin had gone through the Tuann laws—those he could get his hands on. An informed Kira was a smart Kira. They'd thought getting Liara to give up her family claim to Kira would be the end of things. Turned out that assumption was wrong because Kira was uncommon in the Tuann community.

Her parents weren't from one House but two, a marriage meant to cement an alliance between two foes. It left Kira in the rare position of being dual House. Since she’d been kidnapped before her parents could designate her as one House or the other, it meant both Houses had a claim. And lucky Kira, she'd convinced Liara to rescind her claim, clearing the field nicely for Roake.

Kira rubbed her forehead. What a clusterfuck.

It wasn't Jin's fault he'd missed this. Neither one of them was familiar enough with Tuann culture to understand all of its nuances. It placed them in the unenviable position of having to feel their way through half-blind.

"We could run, but—" Jin trailed off.

Yes, but.

The Tsavitee were back. Humans would need all their allies.

She might have pulled away from humanity, needing the distance to heal while putting her long-term plans in motion, but she had no desire to see the Consortium fall. She cared for too many of them.

Kira stared at the table, hating she'd been pushed to this point. Options were limited. There was no easy path forward; whichever way she turned, something would be lost.

Since she'd never formalized her retirement, it left her open to the military’s will. A will Himoto had already exercised once by ordering her to Ta Da'an, House Luatha’s planet.

As soon as Kent figured out what the Tuann really wanted, it'd happen again.

The only thing she was surprised about was that Himoto hadn't already acted. She lifted her eyes to meet his impenetrable stare. He'd never been easy to read with that stoic face. Age hadn't changed that much.

"I don't think you have a choice," Jin said, knowing where her mind had gone.

"I think you're right." She hated that it had come to this. Hated that she was going to have to shut a door she'd kept deliberately cracked.

"What are you about to do?" Raider asked, the lazy amusement on his face disappearing.

He'd known her long enough to know she wasn't going to let herself be caged. Not unless it was her will.

"Nothing I don't have to," Kira assured him.

Raider appeared less than reassured. But then, he knew her better than any of those present, except for Jin. Their history was long. Even if it was fraught with tension and soured with dislike toward the end, there had been a time where they'd been as close as siblings.

"I don't care if you have to tow the damn things," Kent was saying, his eyes snapping fire as he glared at Jace. "Just find a way to get them here."

"Admiral, we are happy to provide the people required to fly our ships to a human station of your choosing," Silas offered.

Silence reigned. Kent's gaze flicked from Silas to Jace to Kira and back again. "What are we talking about then?"

"There's a price for their cooperation," Kira said, finally stirring.

Kent stared at her. "Don't leave us in suspense."

"In exchange for our cooperation, we would like the Lady Kira to accompany us to our home," Silas said, inclining his head showing respect to Kira.

Kent was quiet for several seconds, his forehead furrowed as if he was trying to decipher whether there was a hidden message in there. "Let me see if I have this straight. You’ll give us the ships, people to operate the ships, and all you want is her?"

"We would like the opportunity for her to get to know us. This seems to be the only way to make it happen." Silas's smile was genial.

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